“Ah, well, I am a great and sublime fool. But then I am God’s fool, and all His work must be contemplated with respect.”

– Mark Twain

In my posting this morning to the “On Leadership” blog at washingtonpost.com, I reflected on this famous quotation from Mark Twain and recent headlines about Tiger Woods, Max Baucus, Raj Rajaratnam, and Henry Blodget. What do we do with a leader who fails us? And when do we let a miscreant get on with his or her life?

I said that it is complicated: the answer must depend on the gravity of the crime; restitution for anyone injured; propensity to repeat; truth-telling and transparency about the issue; sincerity of regret and commitment to do differently in the future; competence and reliability to tread a new and better path; the incentives your decision might create for the future. The point is that we need to avoid snap judgments and actually “contemplate with respect” the miscreants we encounter. See my posting for the full argument.

An added thought: was Mark Twain just being a wuss? Not necessarily. Like all great writers, he produced enough verbiage for any good investigator to find a counteropposing view in his own words. For instance, he also supposedly said, “The trouble ain’t that there is too many fools, but that the lightning ain’t distributed right.”